Russ Bennett is the Head of Visual Design for Bonnaroo. A striking man with flowing beard and kind eyes, Bennett has a long history of creating environments that turn a simple concert into an interactive art experience. We got a chance to ask him about his process and the evolution of the Bonnaroo grounds.
You’ve been a part of the Bonnaroo scenery since its creation. What was your inspiration for the original Bonnaroo and how has it changed over the years?
Inspirations for the first Bonnaroo were the solstice and traditional rhythms. We made a faux Stonehenge, centered around a massive stabile, as well as columnar markers at the entrances. The wall fence the first year was a massive continuum of oversized grasses. We had our own flag.
From there, we started creating more permanent pieces, such as the entrance arch, which gets a new look each year, and the fountain, which different artists have the opportunity to express themselves on and through each year. The Planet Roo hands are still evocative of the mission for that area, the tower we brought to the site, and it has become an evolving canvas for sculpture that is light- and video-based.
You’ve said that everything at the festival is interactive. How so?
Art is interactive. Music is the perfect example of that, as it is made by living musicians and physically moves the vibrations through the air, and, like theater, is viewed by masses and individuals, each having their own personal experience that, like a bolt of lighting, is powerful and then over—but the immutable impression remains.
You’ve worked with bands such as Phish and on all kinds of projects over the years. How does Bonnaroo stand out?
Bonnaroo is a multi-faceted musical experience, with many different genres of music presented. In that regard it can seem somewhat eclectic; music aficionados appreciate all kinds of music since there is no one influence. There is more music and experiential opportunity than any one person can partake in over the course of the event. The offerings and overall experience at Bonnaroo, therefore, is not as singular in purpose as a festival that is just a blues festival or a folk festival or a festival with one main band and related themes, all of which, while layered, are less eclectic.
What can we look forward to seeing this year and beyond? Extra points for classified secrets.
We continue to evolve at Bonnaroo on many levels, including the Visual Design offerings.Artistic expressions in the world of light will continue to grow this coming year, as well as additional permanent sculptural pieces. In time. the site of Bonnaroo could become a world-class sculpture park.